Running by committee is one of the ways the Union College football team hoped to offset the loss of several key components of its passing attack through both graduation and injury.
That plan worked better than the Dutchmen could have imagined last week against Springfield, and Union is hoping for similar results when it treks to Worcester, Mass., to take on WPI today at 1 on Alumni Field.
Union (2-0, 2-3) joined Hobart as the only unbeaten teams in the Liberty League after last week’s surprising 49-21 victory over Springfield at Frank Bailey Field. The Dutchmen piled up 440 yards of total offense, including 353 on the ground, as T.J. Franzese and Darnell Thomas each ran for 94 yards, and fullback Tim Hersey chipped in with 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Dylan Schuck also ran for two TDs.
Sophomore quarterback Connor Eck not only threw three scoring passes, giving him six over the last two weeks, but he also added to Union’s strong rushing attack. He hasn’t been intercepted over the last two weeks.
Defensively, Union forced eight fumbles, recovering five, and picked off a pass for a total of six turnovers against the Pride. Union also held Springfield, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing at more than 280 yards per game, to just 106 yards on the ground.
“I was very impressed with the effort that we made on both sides of the ball,” said Union head coach John Audino, who is 16th among active Division III coaches in career victories with a mark of 143-63. “Our offensive line played great, and our runners took full advantage. Defensively, we had a good scheme against Springfield, but Springfield really put it on us the last time we played them, even with a good scheme. Even when you know what to expect against them, they are the kind of program that can make you look bad. We got fortunate in that they were breaking in a new quarterback. That definitely helped us.”
Union’s strong rushing attack took pressure off of its passing game, and also helped keep the Union defense off the field.
“I thought at the beginning of the season that our tight ends, offensive line and running backs would be the strength of the team,” said Audino. “That really proved to be the case after we lost our three starting wide receivers to injury. If you include the guys we lost through graduation, we lost our top five receivers, and I felt that our runners could keep opposing defenses off our backs until our passing game got going. Rushing the ball is definitely our strength. We hope we are getting our second wind.”
Audino said that Union’s runners are each a little different, with Thomas and Franzese providing speed and cutback ability. Hersey and Schuck add strength up the middle.
WPI (0-2, 1-4) trails the all-time series, 31-8, and Union has won 15 of the last 16 meetings. But the Engineers usually play the Dutchmen extremely tough at home.
“I hope we don’t take WPI lightly,” said Audino. “We’re only 2-3 ourselves. Even though we are tied for first in the Liberty League, we’ve got to play well to beat WPI. They are a very physical team, and I expect a real battle from them. The games are usually very close down there.
“But that’s the great thing about belonging to a league. You can struggle early, like we did again early this season, but you still have a chance to do well in your league and maybe get into the playoffs. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Franzese tops Union’s rushers with 373 yards, while Eck has completed 58 of 107 passes for 827 yards and nine touchdowns. Kyle Reynolds has become his go-to receiver with 10 receptions for 122 yards and five touchdowns.
Noah Joseph paces Union in tackles with 47.
WPI is led by Zach Grasis with 291 yards rushing and four touchdowns. QB Jacob Grills has completed 45 of 102 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns.
UALBANY AT BRYANT
University at Albany (2-0, 4-1) looks to stay unbeaten in Northeast Conference play when the Great Danes visit the Bryant University Bulldogs (0-3, 0-5) in Smithfield, R.I. Game time at Bulldog Stadium is noon.
UAlbany pounded Monmouth, 55-24, last week in a game punctuated with big plays, including a 77-yard fake punt reverse by Kevin Chillis.
Guilderland graduate Drew Smith, who scored three touchdowns in that game, has moved up to fourth on the Great Danes’ all-time rushing list with 2,696. He has three 100-yard rushing games this season.
Bryant’s biggest offensive threat is junior wideout Jordan Harris, who caught nine passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 31-21 loss at Wagner.
HOMECOMING FOR RPI
RPI (1-1, 3-1) looks to bounce back from last week’s loss to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy when the Engineers host St. Lawrence on Homecoming Day. Game time on East Campus Athletic Village
Stadium is 1 p.m.
Quarterback Mike Hermann is the trigger man for RPI with 1,138 yards passing and 260 yards on the ground. He has scored five times himself and tossed for 12 TDs